What, exactly, does 'Made in the USA' mean?

Are the American-made goods you buy really "made in the USA?"

Labor Day is a day to honor the American worker, and a day, if retailers have their way, for us to go shopping.

So it’s no surprise that there are companies out there, like Wal-Mart, advertising goods that are “Made in the USA.”  Wal-Mart says that when customers are deciding what to buy, where a product was made is second only in importance to how much it costs.

“Made in America is a very important consideration for many Americans,” said Michelle Amazeen, an advertising and legal studies professor at Rider University. 

There’s a perception, she said, that goods made here are better quality, and that buying those goods will help keep jobs in the country. “It is a very powerful label,” she said.

But if you want to put the four words "Made in the USA" on your product, you’d better mean it.

“If a marketer wants to make an unqualified ‘Made in the USA’ or other U.S. origin claim, the marketer needs to have substantiation that product was all or virtually all made in the USA,” said Julia Solomon Ensor, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC has published a 37-page document outlining the standard.

It says that a lovely lamp that is assembled in America, with American-made brass and an American-made lampshade, but an imported base, doesn't qualify for the label "Made in the USA."

The FTC will go after companies that don’t follow the rules.

“A lot of companies try and wordsmith their way around the law,” said Bonnie Patten from TruthinAdvertising.org.

Look carefully and you'll see labels saying things like “Designed in the USA,” “Made with U.S. labor” or even “Made in the USA with imported parts.” 

If you want something truly, fully “Made in the USA,” you’re going to need to read those patriotic labels closely.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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